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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Barbara (review)

Barbara yellow light Nina Hoss

I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Barbara is a doctor in 1980s East Germany. Something she did — we’re never quite sure what — resulted in an “incarceration,” and now she’s been exiled from Berlin to a rundown rural hospital… though, to be fair, things were probably pretty rundown in the GDR’s slice of Berlin, too. Her new medical coworkers in these backwater “provinces” are being punished for their own misdeeds, and an oppressive sense of resignation and apathy hangs over what should be a place of healing and positivity. Mood is the primary concern of respected German filmmaker Christian Petzold, who won the Silver Bear for Best Director for Barbara at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival, yet the odd mutedness and puzzling lack of urgency here frustrates our attempts at full engagement with Barbara’s plight, which we learn, as the film slowly unfurls, revolves around a plan to escape permanently to Denmark. Petzold and his star, Nina Hoss, create some creepily effective individual moments of Orwellian horror as Stasi spies hover always on the periphery, once making their presence and power known in ways deeply disturbing to us and deeply unnerving for Barbara, and at every turn there are unsettling reminders of the everyday dehumanizations of totalitarianism. Yet the film resides somewhere in an unsatisfying borderland between drama and thriller, never quite catching fire as either. And the moral quandaries of this immoral time and place — as the one Barbara finds herself mired in over a teenaged patient (Jasna Fritzi Bauer), an escapee from a work camp that Barbara deems an “extermination camp” — never find more than disappointingly convenient resolution.

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Barbara (2012)
US/Can release: Dec 21 2012
UK/Ire release: Sep 28 2012

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated OPH: Orwell, phone home
MPAA: rated PG-13 for some sexual material, thematic elements and smoking
BBFC: rated 12A (contains infrequent moderate sex references)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • There’s No Such Name

    Sounds kind of dull, they should have changed the name to 

    Disturbatorium: The Mildly Erotic Adventures of Brahbrah the Meandering High-heeled Cyclist

    I’d definitely watch a movie with a sophisticated, mysterious title like that.

  • RogerBW

    Mood is great, but without story it’s not enough for me.

  • Thought it was very good.  Unlike The Lives Of Others, which was told from the Stasi’s viewpoint, this gives you a sense of everyday life in a society where anyone could be, and often was, an informer, and you just had to live with it.

    Btw, Barbara was first incarcerated and then exiled for the offense of having asked for an exit visa so that she could marry the West German businessman boyfriend she had met in Berlin.

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